LAKERS a confident bunch

Thursday, May 24th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Robert Horry chuckled about his battle scars, a couple scratches on his nose, compliments of a frustrated Tim Duncan.

Horry and the Los Angeles Lakers can afford to smile, considering the 2-0 lead they hold over San Antonio in the best-of-seven Western Conference finals _ and the immeasurable confidence they've gained with 17 straight wins.

``When a team gets a confidence, that's when you're in trouble,'' Horry said.

He was referring to the Spurs, stressing the importance of keeping on the pressure when the teams meet Friday night in Game 3 at Staples Center.

He just as easily could have been talking about the Lakers, and the trouble their opponents face.

Nine playoff games, nine wins.

Unbeaten since April Fool's Day.

It's been quite a run for the defending NBA champions, especially considering the turmoil they've been through.

Superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant feuded openly in January over their roles, and coach Phil Jackson made some unflattering comments concerning Bryant in March.

``Stuff happens,'' Horry said. ``Things are going to be said. We're all adults. I knew when it's time to win, people are going to put all these things aside.''

Now, there's complete harmony, no surprise considering how well everyone's playing, especially Bryant.

``Before, he was penetrating to score,'' Horry said. ``Now, he's penetrating to get other guys shots. He's becoming the megastar he should.''

Bringing us to the inevitable question: Can the Lakers become the first team ever to sweep through a playoffs?

``We're not finished yet, we're up 2-0, that doesn't mean a thing,'' Horry said. ``They have a whole lot left. We can't look forward to the history books, we can't let them get a confidence going.''

The second of the two Lakers victories, an 88-81 win Monday at the Alamodome, found the nine-year veteran with three championship rings in the spotlight, particularly in the second half.

Duncan had a monster first half, scoring 25 points as the Spurs took a 46-38 lead. Lakers starter Horace Grant was on the bench with four fouls and a nasty cold.

While he had some defensive help as the Lakers often double-teamed Duncan, Horry did a terrific job, and at one point early in the fourth quarter the Spurs' star lost his cool.

``I got poked in the eye after I poked the ball away from him,'' Horry said. ``He tried to get it back.''

Duncan fouled Horry on the play, accidentally scratching his nose and drawing blood, as well as poking him in the eye.

Horry left the game, but only briefly. Jim Cleamons, taking charge of the team after Jackson's third-quarter ejection, quickly put him back in.

``He was effective,'' Cleamons said. ``If it wasn't broke, I didn't want to fix it.''

Grant had no problem with that decision.

``He's my MVP,'' Grant said of Horry. ``When I get in foul trouble, I have a lot of confidence when he's on the floor. He's just as valuable as anybody on this team.''

Whether he'll be with the team after this season is in question. Horry has two years left on his contract, but an escape clause allows him to become a free agent this summer.

He won his first two championship rings with the Houston Rockets in the mid-1990s and still lives in Houston, meaning he's often separated from his wife and two children.

``I haven't really thought about it, I'm just having fun right now,'' Horry said. ``It's a huge life decision, it's going to boil down to a 7-year-old and a 2-year-old.''

Ashlyn, his daughter and the older of the two, is missing her first chromosome, Horry said. Such an occurrence is extremely rare and affects her physically and mentally.

``It's basically a day-to-day process, it's how well she adapts to therapy, how well therapy goes,'' he said. ``You get used to it, you tell yourself that ... you really don't.''

Horry might opt to move closer to home, perhaps playing with the Spurs, Rockets or Mavericks.

Meanwhile, San Antonio's Derek Anderson is expected to play Friday night for the first time since May 5, when he separated his right shoulder on a flagrant foul by Dallas' Juwan Howard.

``I feel like I'm ready to play, so I'll just see what happens the next couple days,'' he said following practice in San Antonio.

Anderson was the Spurs' second-leading scorer during the regular season, and gives his team a better matchup against the explosive Bryant.

``If he's ready, we'll play him,'' Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said.

``Derek looked pretty good,'' San Antonio's David Robinson added. ``He's a fast healer, I'll tell ya.''